Addiction is a serious problem plaguing the United States. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 22.6 million Americans ages 12 and up use illicit drugs for recreational reasons. In addition, over half of all Americans ages 12 or older, a total of 131.3 million people, drink alcohol. Many of those who use drugs or alcohol will develop a substance abuse problem.

Substance abuse physically changes the brain, making it extremely difficult for those affected to successfully overcome the problem without professional help. It causes financial hardship, ruins families, and hurts psychological stability for those who are fighting it. Effective treatments are available through qualified counselors. Sadly, as many as 23.1 million people need professional treatment for addiction, but only 2.6 million get it. Because of these numbers, the demand for qualified addiction treatment professionals continues to grow.

Addiction counseling is a career path that allows compassionate, caring people to come alongside those battling addiction and provide help. To be an effective addiction counselor, you must have good analytical skills and feel comfortable handling emotions and the way people express them. Understanding what this career does will help you determine if it's right for your future goals. This guide will dig deeper into what addiction counseling is and how someone can start a career in this field.

Chapter 1: What is Addiction Counseling? 

Addiction counseling uses evidence-based treatment to help people battling addiction change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These evidence-based treatment methods vary from one client to the next, but the end goal is to provide a client with the tools necessary to break the addiction cycle. Often, cognitive behavioral therapy and other behavioral therapies are used in addiction counseling.

When someone attends addiction counseling, they typically share their feelings and emotions so the counselor can figure out what is triggering the path toward addiction. The counselor will also help a client create goals to work towards as they battle addiction. Addiction counselors teach healthy coping strategies to use to avoid stress without the need to return to addictive substances.

People trained in addiction counseling can work in counseling centers, inpatient treatment centers, and outpatient treatment facilities. They often build long-term relationships with clients as they seek to help them maintain a sober life after breaking the addiction cycle. These professionals typically work alongside others, like doctors and psychologists, to create effective treatment plans that address the emotional, physical, and psychological effects of addiction.

Chapter 2: How Do You Get a Degree in Addiction Counseling?

  • How to become an addiction counselor.
  • Can you be an addiction counselor with just a bachelor's degree?
  • How long does it take to get certified in addiction counseling?

How to become an addiction counselor

There are four primary steps to becoming an addiction counselor. They are:

  1. Earn an accredited degree in counseling
  2. Gain experience working as a counselor under a supervisor during clinical practice
  3. Pass a background check that includes child abuse and felony checks
  4. Pass state or national certification exam after completing your degree

Much of this work, including the degree and the certification process, can be done online.

During your training, you will study several things. Counseling is the primary focus, but you will also need to learn case management and introductory psychology. Learning how to work with families, which often is necessary for addiction counseling, and embracing multicultural counseling methods is also essential.

Can you be an addiction counselor with just a bachelor's degree?

The basic requirement to pursue a position in addiction counseling in many states is an associate degree, but this only opens the door to entry-level positions, often in areas that do not handle clients directly.

A bachelor's degree is considered the bare minimum for those who want to work directly with clients. In a bachelor's program, students will study the psychology and sociology of addiction, as well as how to diagnose chemical and behavioral dependencies. The program will also teach students how to understand the connection between pharmacology and addiction, and how to evaluate and assess psychological disorders that can lead to addiction.

A master's degree in counseling provides the best career opportunities and the most in-depth study. Though it may not be a minimum requirement, it allows students to specialize in drug abuse counseling. Also, for those who hold a degree in another field, a master's degree can provide a pathway to changing careers.

After completing a degree, you will need to get a license that is valid in your state. Most states require Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) status for addiction counseling. The National Counseling Exam, National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, and National Board for Certified Counselors certification exam are all options that are accepted in many states.

How long does it take to get certified in addiction counseling?

The length of time an addiction counseling certificate takes to achieve varies depending on the degree program chosen. An associate degree takes about two years to complete, while a bachelor's degree takes about four. A master's degree program takes two to three years to complete after finishing an undergrad degree. Many schools have accelerated degree programs and online degree options that can shorten this time, as well. Depending on the state, graduates may have to pass a written/oral exam and complete a certain amount of clinical hours before receiving their certification, which can add to the amount of time it takes to complete the overall degree.

Chapter 3: Addiction Counseling Careers & Salary

  • What can you do with a master's in addiction counseling?
  • How much do addiction counselors make?

While your goal for becoming an addiction counselor is to help people, and few people get into this field primarily for the money, you do need to know your potential income to determine if this is the right career path for your future. While pay varies depending on training, number of years in the field, and location, here are some facts about your career options and how much you could make as an addiction counselor.

What can you do with a master's in addiction counseling?

Attaining a master's in addiction counseling gives students the chance to work with those battling addiction at different stages of treatment. They will develop individualized treatment plans to help clients find success in overcoming addiction and are also trained to address co-occurring mental health disorders that often make addiction treatment more challenging. So, what career fields does this open? Here are three examples:

1. Addiction Counselor
The role of an addiction counselor is the first career many will pursue. In this career, the individual is responsible for planning treatment and therapy and working directly with clients. Graduates may work at addiction treatment centers, or they may work independently in their own counseling business.

2. Case Manager
A master's degree can help a graduate work as a case manager at a substance abuse treatment facility or a correctional facility. As a case manager, the addiction specialist will plan clients' services, but may not work directly with them. They will coordinate the counseling, therapy, and the other services needed to help people with a severe addiction get on the path toward sobriety.

3. Substance Abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselor is an addiction counselor who focuses only on drug and alcohol addiction. They are often employed in outpatient or inpatient drug addiction treatment centers.

These are the three most common fields that employ trained addiction counselors with a master's degree. Other fields that may open to those holding a graduate-level degree in addiction counseling may include:

  • Health educator
  • Community health worker
  • Social administrator
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Postsecondary teacher
  • Regulatory affairs director

How much do addiction counselors make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who take a role as an addiction or substance abuse counselor can make an average of $46,240 per year. That’s about $22.23 per hour. Those in the highest 10 percent of the field earn over $76,080 a year on average, and many of those will hold a master's degree. Working for government agencies is the most lucrative field, with an average of $52,720 per year. Working in an outpatient mental health center earns an average of $39,690, while working in an inpatient mental health facility brings an average salary of $39,690.

As more and more people give in to the struggle of addiction, this field is expected to grow significantly. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS expects to see a 25% growth in the field with 79,000 positions to be filled. That career expansion is much faster than the average growth of other career fields.

Chapter 4: Frequently Asked Questions about Addiction Counseling

  • Is there a difference between counseling and therapy?
  • Is an addiction counselor the same thing as a substance abuse counselor?
  • Are there Christian addiction counselors?
  • What addiction counseling programs does University of the Cumberlands offer?
  • Is University of the Cumberlands' addiction counseling program accredited?

Is there a difference between counseling and therapy?

Technically, an addiction counselor and a therapist are not the same. Counselors are focused on finding solutions to the behavioral and emotional issues that clients are dealing with that make their addiction problems worse. They focus on providing practical solutions to avoid triggers and build emotional stability so their clients can avoid falling back into addictive behavior.

Therapists, on the other hand, try to delve deeper into the "why" behind the addiction. They may look at the things that occurred in the individual's past, trying to help their client come to terms with those things to reduce the emotional turmoil they face and make it easier to overcome addiction.

Sometimes, addiction counselors and addiction therapists perform the same role. Both will spend time supporting their clients and building plans to help their clients fight addiction more effectively. Therapists and counselors both use discussion and questioning to get to the bottom of their clients' problems.

Because of these similarities, the terms can be used interchangeably, but they technically refer to different things. A degree in substance abuse counseling can open the door to both career fields.

Is an addiction counselor the same thing as a substance abuse counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is a specialized type of addiction counselor. People can have addictions to many things, not just drugs and alcohol. While controlled substances are common, people can also be addicted to other dangerous things. Addiction counselors and substance abuse counselors have the same training and use the same techniques, but a substance abuse counselor focuses entirely on helping people with drug and alcohol addictions. Addiction counselors may offer counsel for other addiction types, such as food addiction or pornography addiction. The training and certification process is the same for both titles.

Are there Christian addiction counselors?

Yes. Christians trained in addiction counseling can combine their faith with professional substance abuse and addiction counseling training to help people amid an addiction battle. Often addiction is a highly spiritual battle. Bringing in Biblical counseling can often times give clients better success in overcoming addiction. Because of its effectiveness, the industry has a strong need for Christian addiction counseling with trained counselors who can help their clients emotionally and spiritually.

What addiction counseling programs does University of the Cumberlands offer?

University of the Cumberlands offers an online master's in addiction counseling program that prepares students for careers in the field of mental health and addiction. With instructors that have experience in the fields they teach, graduates can be confident that they will be well prepared to become licensed addiction counselors.

Through the master's degree in addiction counseling degree program, University of the Cumberlands provides students the chance to dig into addiction counseling's nuances. They will spend time studying psychopharmacology and addictions, learning how to use prescription medications to address addiction effectively. They will also research motivation and change and family therapy as it relates to addiction treatment. Finally, the program ties in spirituality and values into its counseling training.

In addition, the program covers clinical practice. It gives students an overview of human growth and development, and it discusses psychological assessments. These are valuable skills in addiction counseling.

As a fully online addiction counseling degree, this program provides students the chance to pursue their training in a convenient format that works with their schedules and lifestyles. Pursuing an online addiction counseling program means adults who are in a career can get this training while still taking care of work and family responsibilities.

Is University of the Cumberlands' addiction counseling program accredited?

Yes, University of the Cumberlands offers a master's in addiction counseling program that is Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited. This means students graduate with the training they need to take certification exams and become licensed counselors in their state, depending on specific state requirements.

Make a Difference with an Online Addiction Counseling Degree

Addiction is a serious issue that affects millions of Americans. The demand for trained addiction counselors continues to grow. If you are interested in becoming part of the solution, an online addiction counseling degree could be the right choice. If you are interested in learning more about the Master's in Addiction Counseling program offered at University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.